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As the kids took time out of their eco-suits for the first time in many hours, Robin managed to forget about the horrors left behind in the main kitchen. He wolfed down a trio of energy bars he had procured from the vending machine he had cut up a few decks down.
He watched in fascination as Cody and Dante seemed to become friends right before his eyes even though they were a couple of years apart in age. Both of them had a keen interest in micro electronics, and between the two of them it took only 10 minutes to find and fix the glitch preventing Caleb's suit from getting a proper Heads Up Display. The second they finished on the suit, Dante showed his new friend the rather amazing device he had built and attached to Robin's Holo-player.
Robin couldn't help but roll his eyes as Cody shared some new ideas to further improve the contraption. Robin finally stopped listening as the technical side of the chatter started to make his brain hurt.
Much to Caleb's credit, he noticed Robin's reaction. The younger boy gave a light elbow as he grinned. "I thought you were good on electronics."
"I am," Robin managed a snicker, "but they are way better. I lost them somewhere between the micro enhancements and the receiving relays. It's too bad you guys weren't a class higher. He could have taken the basic electronics class and showed the teacher all sorts of stuff."
Caleb smiled for a second, "He talked me though it about a dozen times and I still don't quite understand how he can enhance a picture beyond its resolution. It has some kind of image processing A.I., but I have no clue how it works."
"But it does, and does well." Robin stated as he rolled his neck and yawned. "You know a good shower and a full night's sleep is going to feel sooooo good when we get back to the Stallion."
Caleb frowned as he nodded slowly and sighed. "It sure will."
Robin noticed Caleb's mood shift. "Something else on your mind?"
Caleb chewed on his lip but remained silent, verifying Robin's suspicions. "Come on, what's up?"
"You're not going to pound us into a puddle if I tell you?"
"No chance, I just want in on whatever you and Dante have been cooking up. I've noticed you two have been talking on a sub-channel quite a bit; since we found the dumb waiter tube is pressurized, so I figured you two have some interesting scheme in mind."
Caleb took a deep breath and slowly nodded, "OK, if we're going to do it we'd need your help anyhow. But, we kinda need to know salvage laws." His eyes lit up a bit as a new thought dawned on him, "Hey, you took some classes on basic space law so maybe you know, cause we were wondering exactly what we can and can't do legally."
Robin's brow wrinkled as he replied, "It was a very basic set of classes. All I can really tell you is we are in what can only be considered deep space since we are not inside the normal fold envelope of the planet."
"What difference does that make?"
Cody turned and answered for Robin. "It means the planetary government does not have an instant claim. If this ship was totally dead, we could do anything we wanted, but it isn't and you rescued quite a few people. I'm pretty sure it means we can't loot the dead and I am certain the personal property inside the cabins can't be touched until we know if there are survivors that can lay a claim. On the other hand, the ship itself is clearly beyond the repair of the remaining crew so it is more or less space salvage."
Robin managed a grin, "So yea, taking the money trays out of the vending machines is not going to get you into trouble."
"Cool, but what about something a bit more um secure?"
"Like?" Robin became a great deal more interested and it showed not only in his tone of voice, but also his body language.
Dante glanced over, "We're not sure. But the blueprints show a vault type room and if this is correct, the dumbwaiter tube not only runs right behind the room, but it's not double walled there either." Caleb pointed it out.
"We have to go right past it. It's on Charlie deck."
Cody jerked his head, "You're not talking about the room right next to the forward observation lounge, are you?"
"Yea." Caleb verified, "Why?"
"Cause that's the purser's office!"
"Really" Robin's eyes seemed to harden and gleam at the same time.
Cody glanced back and forth between the other boys, "You can't seriously be thinking about breaking in to rob it, can you?"
"Robbing it?" Robin shook his head while winking at Dante, "No, the thought never occurred to us."
Dante snickered, "We're just here searching for survivors after all."
Caleb picked up on what Robin and Dante were getting at, "It isn't our fault the easiest way into the room to check for anyone alive is by cutting into the back of it. Besides, there's almost no chance the observation lounge is pressurized, but that is a secure room, so it probably is. It's our duty to check everyplace we can."
"But" Words failed Cody as he continued to look between the three merc kids.
Robin held up his hand to stop Cody, "Hey, what we come across while looking for survivors is what it is. Besides, if we don't, those salvage craft coming up certainly will. One way or the other, it going to be salvaged and isn't going to be handed over to the former owners of this ship."
"My dad's gunna kill me." Cody groaned.
"Only if he finds out." Dante grinned while giving his new friend a pat on the back.
Robin rolled his eyes, "And one thing I can assure you is, we can keep secrets. If our folks knew half of what we have done in the past few months, none of us would be allowed out of our cabins."
He then paused, "But first things first, we need to get up to Bravo deck, and possibly Alpha. Survivors must be our first and only objective until we have basically exhausted all connecting pressurized sections. Speaking of which, Dante, do you have a good fix on the first class cabins on Bravo?"
"I think so, at least I hope so."
"Hope?" Cody asked while being kind of relieved at the change of subjects.
"Yea, it looks like most of the larger rooms are starboard and aft. The entire fore section looks to be huge open rooms for something and the port side almost certainly is crew quarters, along with the laundry, the primary sickbay, power, life support, and the like."
"Is that good?"
Robin nodded, "It sure is Cody. From everything we have seen and found out, the initial problem was in the front of the fold ship. The explosion, or whatever it was, sent most of the heavy debris into the front and port side of this ship. The Grey Stallion was pretty much protected because this ship shielded us from most of the potentially damaging debris and up to this point, almost all the survivors we found have come from the aft starboard portion of this ship."
"We were in the port side"
"And you got out with almost nothing. You also had to force open a couple of emergency bulkheads which means the area you were in is probably totally exposed to space now." Robin turned his attention back to Dante, "So what is the fastest secure way up there?"
Dante grunted, "This is where we run into trouble. It's a hard call. The cargo tube will get us up there, but it opens into those large rooms in the forward sections. There is little chance they will have air. The main shaft also goes all the way up and we know it is pressurized, but it exits into the observation room on Bravo. So far, all the observations rooms have been breached. Plus, there is this section." Dante pulled up and enhanced a large open area taking up about an eighth of the top three decks. "I don't know what this section aft of the bridge is. It's huge and appears to take up parts of all three of the top decks, but normal access is only through Alpha."
"Interesting." Robin studied it for a couple of seconds, "Maybe it is a cargo hold? It looks to have a large outer door."
"Whatever it is," Caleb spoke slowly, "It is in a sheltered part of the structure, so it may have pressure and it is almost certainly our only way to check on the bridge and the command crew. We need to figure out how to get in there."
"I don't see a way." Dante grunted, "It's only access points are from the outside and Alpha, and I don't see a way to get to Alpha that has any chance of having pressure."
Cody took a couple of deep breaths, "There is another option, but I don't think I'm supposed to know about it."
"Do tell." Robin stated with a bemused voice.
"Well, um, my brother and me were playing hide and seek and I kind of found out that the room service elevator has a sign on it that says secure access only, but there is no security slot. Just to verify, I checked it out. It goes to every deck including Alpha, but where there was a button for the other decks, Alpha had a key hole.
Caleb jerked his head sharply, "So you're saying you aren't the saint you like to portray yourself as?"
Dante lightly pushed Caleb while grinning from ear to ear, "Come on dude, he was a cadet force commander, he didn't get there by being an angle. He had to step on a few toes and stab a couple of others in the back to get there."
Cody glared at both younger boys for a moment before he realized all his dirty looks accomplished was to generate laughter from all three kids. Giving up he finally tossed up his hands. "OK, so I'm not totally innocent."
As laughter rolled out of the other three boys, Cody smacked the secure door behind him. "The lift goes from the master chef station on Bravo deck all the way down to Hotel. There is also a small dumb waiter that also goes up to Alpha, but it is big enough to climb into even with these suits. I checked. But I didn't try to open the doors on Alpha, cause I heard noise on the other side. Better yet, the main lift I was telling you about opens on every deck and is in the starboard aft side. As a matter of fact, it is right behind us. If you can get this bulkhead door open, that is."
Robin finally managed to lower his laughter into a snicker after a full minute. He had to wipe away a couple of laughter tears before he turned to Dante, "We don't have the tools to open an emergency bulkhead with the pins in place. Find us an alternate route."
Dante, still laughing too hard to follow through, pushed the holo-player over to Cody.
Cody snagged it as he sent one last playful glare in Dante's direction. "I will get even when you least expect it."
Robin couldn't help himself, "See there guys, all along his halo has been held up by a pair of demon horns. He really will fit in."
Cody shook his head as he started scanning the deck plans of the Wagon class PLC. "You do realize I may just start enjoying your company."
"So?" Caleb managed to ask getting his own laughter under some semblance of control.
"So, I just might hang around and ruin your hard core rep."
"Not gunna happen." Robin fired back, "Will give you a merc rep long before anyone notices you used to be a good kid."
"Good kid?" Cody snorted, "My father would never believe you were using those words to refer to me. Trust me, I may not have raised the type of hell you guys have, but my name is never going to be added to a list of saints."
He suddenly slapped his forehead and pushed the viewer back to Dante. "Hold on a sec." He grabbed his radio and keyed it, "Dad, I need to speak to Nikita"
"Where in the blazes are you?" Cody's father's voice responded almost instantly. "You should have been back hours ago!"
"We're fine. We are recharging air and power again. But, I need to speak to my brother."
"You've had your Mom worried sick!"
"Dad, come on. We're fine, but there is still three decks to get to before we head back. We have found pockets of power so there is a chance there are others who are still alive. The faster we check em out the sooner you can kick my butt."
Colonel Meschev snarled, "There are three more decks, not there is three more decks! I paid way too much money"
Cody turned red with embarrassment as he shook his head and hit the mute button, "It'll take him a minute or so to vent."
Dante patted Cody on the back, "No question about it, you'll fit right in. Maybe we can get your dad a slot while he waits for his unit to get here."
Cody managed a grin, "That actually sounds fun." Seeing the red receiving light go out, he turned the speaker back on. "I hear you loud and clear. Can I please speak to Nikita now?"
There was a pause then the voice of Cody's little brother came over the radio, "What's up?"
"When we played hide and seek you managed to sneak around me when I thought I had you cornered on the aft side of the main dining hall. How'd you do it?"
"You're not going to get in trouble. It's my fault we were up there not yours."
Oh man, Dad's pissed. He's gunna beat your butt when you get back."
"Yea, so I gathered. So how'd you do it?"
"The life support vents run right over the center passage. I crawled up there and waited for the fans to cut off."
"Are you nuts?" everyone heard Cody's dad shout. "If that had turned on while you were squeezing though"
"Dad," Cody cut him off, "I'm the one who taught him that trick. Blame me."
There was a long growling sound, "You best find a job son, cause you just lost your allowance for the next 3 months!"
"Fine, whatever. You can scream at me for hours when I get back. Right now I really need to talk to Nic. I still need to know where you got in little bro."
Nikita's voice almost squeaked as he spoke, "I used the food service cart to climb up to the emergency access panel. The lock is fake, it's just held on by clips." There was a slight pause, "Ummm. You may want to stay over there Cody. Dad's"
Cody's mom's voice broke in, "I'll take care of your dad, you just take care of each other over there."
"We will mom. Thanks."
"That is what mom's are for." She half laughed, "But just looking at your dad, you may well want to take Nic's advice and see if they will take you in for a few weeks and get a janitor job or something, cause your allowance is toast. Hold for a sec, Your brother is trying to remember how he ended up behind you."
Cody killed the radio as he glanced over at Robin while they waited, "Well I just lost my 40 credits a week for the next three months. Hitting the purser's office suddenly sounds a bit more to my liking."
Dante smiled, "I just hope we can pull it off."
Suddenly Major O'Connell's voice broke in over the radio, "Boys you may want to turn off your eco-suit voice activated radios if you are going to discuss such things."
"Oh crap!" Robin shouted, "Who didn't turn off"
Cody's blush answered the question before Robin could finish.
"Damm-it Cody!" Dante shouted.
Major O'Connell gave a hardy laugh. "Relax boys. We have been monitoring, so we have a good idea of what you have been up to. Be advised, the planet has decided it is not worth the cost of sending up salvage craft, basically giving what we can find to us in exchange for saving as many lives as we can. Since you guys are doing the life saving, you have every right to give it a shot. However, I want three fourths of what is in there for unit funds in exchange for making the three of us who know what you are up to forget what we heard. Besides, you owe us for cleaning up the recordings so none of your discussions are available for review."
Robin took a deep breath, "You got a deal sir!"
"I kind of figured as much. From now on, keep your secondary mission talk on sub channel two-niner. Do the same if or when you want to discuss similar matters. We are the only ones who can monitor it since it is such a low frequency and scrambled; besides we mysteriously seem to be having technical problems recording it."
Caleb nearly choked as he heard the unit commander give them a way to pull it off without anyone else noticing. "Thanks Sir, but without salvage craft how are we going to rescue people on the fold ship?"
"To be honest Kay, your dad gives it almost no chance of having anyone living on board. The magnetic stabilizer in the front exploded, destroying the bridge and crew section as it blew. There is a slight chance of some being in engineering. Unfortunately, any rescue attempt will have to wait unit we can get a docker to go over and burn a hole in her. We will be getting one along with a salvage craft from Kipper Limited. We arranged a 50-50 split for any SFC salvage and a 75-25 split in their favor for the PLC with the company. But, we just finalized the deal about 30 minutes ago so their salvage rig has not even left orbit yet. The truth is, you are basically the only hope any survivors have over there. To this end, stay focused on what you have been doing then you can go play with the vending machines and other items of interest."
The side conversation ended as Nikita's voice came over Cody's radio, "I'm kind of messed up since we were on the ground and had gravity when I did it, but I am pretty sure the panel was right above the laser ball table on Delta and I know I went through two fans then turned left to get behind you."
"Two fans!" Cody's dad almost exploded. "You mean to tell me one wasn't stupid enough?"
"Dad, it's my fault." Cody responded. "It really is."
Cody's mom sighed, "Son, it will be in your better interest to stay with your new friends for a few days and maybe your brother can join you. It'll take a few days to cool your father off."
A new voice broke in with a snicker, "This is Major O'Connell. We'd be happy to take in an orphan or two, even temporary ones. As a matter of fact, I'm sure I could use all of your family. I'd be happy to give all of you temp paid slots in the Grenadiers if you would like."
Robin winked at Cody as he responded, "Thanks sir."
"Nothing to thank me for Robin. The four of you have saved more lives than all of us combined have done and to be honest, with the injuries we have, we'll need a few extra hands."
Cody spoke up, "Just tell me what you need sir."
"What you are doing is right where we need you. Your combined efforts have saved scores of lives."
"We are hoping to find more, but with the exception of a few pockets of power, this ship is basically dead and getting too cold to support life."
"As long as there is hope of finding one more, keep at it. With you and your parents' permission, I'll add you to the roster at the rank of private. Since you are still in school, it only pays 225 a month though."
Before any more could be said, Robin interrupted, "Sir, he has his combat frame pilot certification."
Major O'Connell whistled, "Well, then I stand corrected. It is 275, not 225. How about it son?"
"275 is awesome sir! Dad?"
Cody's father responded almost instantly with a bit of a snarl, "It's that, or a three month grounding."
Cody swallowed hard, "OK sir! Sign me up!"
"Will do." Major O'Connell half snickered. "Robin will explain how duties work for school age kids and you can stay on as long as your parents will allow."
Cody's mom broke in, "As long as he has to complete school, he can stay as long as he wants. To be honest, we got passage using fake IDs acting like his aunt and uncle since the government was looking for my husband and his missing military unit. With the exception of our bank accounts, which we transferred off world, we don't have much, at least until my husband's unit gets here."
"School and GPA above a 2.0 are requirements of keeping his slot." Major O'Connell confirmed, "We also add 5 per month for ever .25 above 2.0. But I have to tell you, his duties will be real and not simply guard duty."
"I'll kick his tail if he doesn't keep a 3.0." Cody's dad responded, his voice still seething with anger. "But, to be honest, I like what I am hearing Major. It's time he gets his feet a bit wet to see if being a framer is really what he wants to do. Besides, it would be great for all of us to get a better understanding of what merc life is all about. The two of us need to talk so I can figure out how to run a merc unit and Robin suggested you may have some good contacts with AIM."
"I'll be happy to put you in touch with the right people. If you sign up with me, however, I can give you the added benefit of a Command Recommendation, which will give you a chance at an AIM rating of a D- unit before you even hire out. If we play our cards right, we may even get you bumped up at a D or even D%2B so AIM can send a strong message to Quaker VI. It ain't much, but it sure is better than starting with an untested rating."
"Starting at as a U Ranked unit was bothering me, so put me on the list. The only problem is I am an armor commander, not a frame jock. I leave the frame crap to my boys and our pocket book to pay for their training. Unfortunately, it seems keeping them from doing stupid garbage so they can live long enough to see frame combat seems to be my hardest challenge."
The Major laughed really hard, "Something tells me you wouldn't want your parents knowing half the shit you did at their age. I know damn sure I wouldn't."
"Good point, but it still doesn't get Cody off the hook."
"I can't blame you, but in my eyes, you've done a great job as a parent. There are more than a few kids who would not have risked letting anyone know what they had done, but both of yours care enough to take the punishment in order to save the lives of strangers. You have a right to be angry, but should be proud at the same time."
There was an angry sounding growl for a moment then a slight sigh. "OK, I'll give them some credit, but Cody's allowance comes from working for you not from me. If you got a dish washing job for Nikita, he will be needing some allowance money as well."
"I am sure we can find something. How old is he?"
"Perfect. All kids in the double digits are required to do some work within the unit. We'll place him in a slot you and your wife approve of once we are fully secure. Speaking of your wife, what experience does she have?"
"Commander," Cody's mom's voice took over, "I have zero combat knowledge, but I am a wizard when it comes to number crunching."
Nikita spoke up, "And she is the best cook in the world!"
There was a round of laughter all around as some of the anger and tension slipped away. Major O'Connell snickered as he replied. "We've got a couple of mean cooks who treat the kitchen as their own, but we'll need someone willing to keep tabs on damage and repairs to this ship as well as handle salvage records."
"Now there is something I can sink my teeth into. I am definitely interested."
"OK," Cody's dad interrupted, "so what does an armor colonel do for a frame merc unit?" Cody's dad sounded a bit calmer as the discussion turned away from his kids.
The Major answered instantly. "We have a half company of armor and infantry which could use someone who knows how to run it. We have a stinging lack of combat experienced leadership. All we really use them for is security and salvage recovery. We also have a hold full of armor we captured when we defended your Northern Greenhouse complexes. If you could form it into something akin to a fighting force, I'd be thrilled."
"The current unit isn't large enough to rate much, how about senior lieutenant?"
"Better than nothing. I'll take it. We can discuss everything further face to face when we get a chance."
"Good, then your whole family is now part of the Grenadiers." Major O'Connell took a deep breath. "Robin you are the one in direct contact with Jared. Have him assign them a family sized room and get them pass keys and uniforms."
"Will do sir."
Cody broke in as he looked at the holographic blueprints. "Sir, while we have you on the horn, the plans you transmitted to us show a large open bay in the far aft section of the ship that appears to take up part of Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie. Do you know what it is?"
"You mean in all your explorations you didn't get in there?" Major O'Connell quipped.
Cody flared a bright red but managed a fiendish grin after a moment, "No sir, but if I'd have known about it"
"Cody!" His mom shouted sending everyone into more laughter. Even some of the refugees close to the former armor commander's family could be heard snickering.
"Ah, boys will be boys. He'll fit right in with the others." Major O'Connell responded with a strangely satisfied voice. "As for your question private, I don't know. Hold a sec while we pull up the deck plans and I find someone who can get you answers."
Cody's dad spoke up, "Whatever you need Cody to do, keep him away from me for a few days for both our sakes."
Major O'Connell voice came over with a great deal of humor to it. "He'll be helping with frame repair; you'll be on a whole different deck with the armor and infantry. I'll even assign him to quarters with Robin right next to Robin's mom. Since we know she can handle Robin, I am sure she can handle your son."
"Good plan Major." Cody's mom responded with a bit of a giggle.
"Great. Robin, we'll move you and Cody to Zero Two Seven and give your mom Zero Two Six so you will have your own quarters. It will be subject to inspection just like everyone else, so if you want to keep it; it stays up to standards.
"Totally understood sir, thank you."
"Nothing to thank me for. Something tells me most of those from the other ship would agree you deserve a chance to be a bit more independent. Have Jared move your stuff."
Robin let out a bit of a nervous breath as he realized the Major was basically giving him a shot at being a full member of the unit. He looked around at the other three with him who were showing a mixture of surprise and jealousy at the radical change in his status within the unit. "Understood sir. Any word on what that bay is yet?"
"Hold tight. I will have an answer for you before your eco-suits are recharged."
As Dante reached in and flipped off Cody's suit's voice activated radio, Cody hung his head. "Sorry guys, I didn't know it stayed on when I was not in it."
Caleb shrugged as he used a cloth to wipe down the inside of his suit. "It worked out great, so forget it. Since the Major overheard us talking, he was ready to give you and your parents' slots in the unit which killed most of your dad's anger." He paused and grinned, "Speaking of which, good to have you in the unit Private Meschev."
Dante also smiled, "Hell yea! Welcome to the Grenadiers!"
A new voice came over the radio cutting the momentary celebration. "Kids, this is Senior Warrant Officer Ulyan. There are two possibilities for the compartment you are concerned about. The original design called for a re-supply bay so they could stay in space longer. However, many Wagon Class PLCs underwent an upgrade to change it into a docking hold for private luxury yachts. Most were changed to hold two or three, but a few were reconfigured to hold four or six small yachts and or shuttles."
Robin shrugged, "Does it make any difference what it is?"
"It sure does. If it is a yacht bay, the access to the bridge would be restricted, but there would have been access added to the dining halls, casinos, and other entertainment areas. If it stayed as designed by the ship blueprints, then the one's you have are correct, with direct bridge access and turbo lifts going to the upper and lower storage holds along with a cargo tube going to the main galley."
Cody chewed on his lip for a moment, "I'm almost sure we are on a conversion. When we were messing around on Charlie deck, I heard some of the crew talking about needing to work on internal docking clamps. I didn't give it much thought, but if there were internal docking clamp problems, it must have been for clamps in the bay."
Major O'Connell responded to Cody's remark, "Even a re-supply bay would have some sort of clamp system for docking cargo haulers, but you're probably right since they needed to fix it and this was supposed to be a fast run."
Cody's dad broke into the conversation. "Guys, if we were traveling on a conversion you now have a new goal. You need to find a way in there. If there are yachts docked in an internal bay, there is a good chance survivors are using them since they have their own life support."
Robin started to say something but was cut off by Major O'Connell, "Robin, you have flown before right?"
Robin glanced back at the others and frowned, "Well, yea, but only as a trainee. Caleb has an actual shuttle license though."
"Oh, yea very good Robin." The major's voice shifted to a slow hardened growl, "Stand by one."
Cody looked over to Robin, "What is he up to?"
Robin shrugged, "I have no idea, but here we go again."
Dante grinned, "No doubt. By the tone of his voice he has come up with one of those again."
"One of those?" Cody held up his hands showing confusion.
Caleb snickered, "Major O'Connell has a knack for turning the tables on the enemy with some pretty outrageous ideas and tactics. One of the biggest reasons the Grenadiers is a veteran 'B+' unit on the verge of an elite 'A' rank by AIM, is because of the victories the man has pulled from the jaws of defeat. Whenever those of us in the unit, who have been here for awhile, hears the slow speech with the almost growl sounding tone we simply say it is 'one of those'. It happens about five or six times a year and it is always a zinger!"
"Yea," Dante grinned, "The last time was when Quaker VI hit your Northern Greenhouse complex."
Cody's eyes went wide, "Even I know about the defense of the greenhouse! You guys took out 9 full battalions of infantry, armor, and frames all by yourselves! You rocked out there!"
"Yes WE did." Robin smiled and gave a quick high five to both Dante and Caleb.
Cody glanced back and forth for a second, "You mean you where there?"
Dante's grin alone was enough to confirm all three of those with Cody had been there.
"Every Grenadier above the age of nine, who could pull a trigger was there, and a few of the younger ones who were allowed to by their parents." Caleb confirmed. "Plus, every non-frontline adult."
"Doing what?" Cody asked in total astonishment.
"We were field workers." Dante snickered as Cody's face took on an even more confused look.
Robin shook his head, "No, actually we were planters."
Dante kind of tossed up his hands as he looked over to Robin, "Not really. What we planted didn't really sprout. So I still say we were more field workers."
Caleb shook his head sharply, "I don't know Dante, everything I planted shot out of the ground pretty well."
"What in the blazes did you guys do?" Cody almost shouted showing growing frustration.
Robin reached over and patted Cody on the shoulder, "We replaced the workers in the fields surrounding the actual greenhouses and planted a couple thousand explosive spike pads your government gave us, cause they didn't see any use for them. In the hours just before the assault, we went to work. We knew they were coming from the Intel your government provided but didn't know from where; so we spread out and started planting."
"Spike pads? The second they hit the first few scouts they would have moved heavy rollers forward with a heavy armor screen. Why didn't the mine rollers detonate them?"
"Because Major O'Connell had us take out the pressure pad switches out of most of those behind the front line of them."
Cody's frown deepened as he rubbed his chin, "OK, so they lost their lead light striker tanks then the mine rollers and the heavy protective screen of armor simply rolled right over the rest of them. I still don't get it though. How did you set them off, it couldn't have been by radio cause the protective screening armor must have had ECM and would have jammed radio detonated mines."
"They did." Dante confirmed. "But the second we found out where they had landed, we moved to the fields between them and the green house and set up the next part of the Major's plan. Those of us in the fields each controlled about a dozen mine pads with wire detonators rigged into our tools. Since they only saw field hands, most of them blew right past us. The few who fired at us were taken out by a few infantry we planted with heavy rocket launchers on the tops of the outer buildings. When they opened up, all attention was turned away from us and toward them."
Robin sighed, "All told,we lost about a dozen from the fields and another score from the outer buildings, but we took out about 3 dozen scout platforms and a handful of heavier armor from the advanced screen.
"We didn't have to wait long for the second wave to move up and into our killing field. We held back until the adults with us triggered their mines and then we pulled ours. The result was not great. At first we were disappointed cause we only killed 10 platforms total, but then it occurred to us exactly what the Major was doing as the tanks sped up and forced their front ranks forward even faster. To them it looked like an artillery strike spread in a pre-targeted pattern."
Cody's eyes suddenly lit up, "So they cleared the area as fast as they could and moved the advanced ECM units out with them. This still blocked radio signals from the greenhouse complex, but not from those they left behind."
"Exactly." Dante smiled. "Then it was a simple matter of letting the rest push through us. The second they were over one of our pre-marked spike strips we killed the frame or armor by a focused radio burst aimed at our markers. The whole time they thought it was artillery so they moved at top speed through the kill zone and ignored us. We must have knocked out ten frames or armor platforms each."
"Yea." Robin nodded. "Even better, we were able to see what we were targeting so we didn't trigger the mines against the very easy to kill soft targets or the really heavy tracked platforms which would have withstood the explosive strips. Those of us who knew what we were looking for, were able to hold off and detonate when command frames or other leader type frames stepped on the right spots. We dusted about 150 frames and armor, many of them commanders."
"Even better, the confusion of loosing so many leaders crippled their command and control. They started to bunch as they all tried to blow though our mine field then hit heavy fire from our frames. This was actually pre-planned by the Major as well, as the area he bogged them down in was where our 14 heavy artillery guns had pre-set as their kill zone. In addition, the Major pulled the trigger on all the rocket batteries your government had given us to help defend the complex."
Caleb shivered as he recalled seeing hundreds of rockets coupled with massive artillery slamming into the Quaker VI lines. "We had to have been 5 kilometers away by then, but I could still feel the ground move under us as the whole world seemed to explode in a line between the complex and us."
Robin gave a satisfied nod, "Within minutes their lines broke and our frames moved forward, easily sweeping the field clear of any unorganized resistance. At the same time, the Major started detonating the other spike strips in the directions the breaking units were fleeing, giving the appearance of a much heavier defensive force than we had. Finally, the idiots from Quaker VI pushed into the outer edges of the other fields where we had set the trigger pad mines. Many, thinking they had accidentally moved into large mine fields, surrendered rather than risk moving around too much without heavy rollers. Our lower hold is full of vehicles we captured, but we don't have the men or leadership to do anything with them and Quaker VI wouldn't let us sell them or do much recruiting once your government surrendered."
Cody shook his head in amazement, "You know, my dad could change all that. He knows armor and how to build a good unit."
Robin nodded, "Yea, I'm sure he could and it would be great to have a combined armor platform and frame merc unit, but we are going to have to sell quite a bit of it to pay bills and refit. We are low on almost everything including cash."
Cody frowned, "You know for a kid, you sure know a lot about what goes on in your unit."
"I was born into the Grenadiers." Robin stated with a hard stare. "The command staff doesn't kick me out when they talk and neither do the troopers. Me, Caleb, Jared, Neil, Zane and Luna are Grenadiers from birth and probably know more about this whole unit than most of the adults do, cause we are around commanders, field officers, upper enlisted, and lower enlisted on a daily basis. Add in Dante, here, and the other long time Grenadier kids and you will probably find there is nothing we don't know or couldn't find out. As a matter of fact, I think between us, we have worked for or with every member of this unit at one point and time. If push came to shove, we could pool our skills and all but run a merc unit."
Cody glanced around and saw both Dante and Caleb nod with an almost creepy and scary edge. He took a deep breath. "After seeing you all in action, I believe it. On the other hand, give my mom and dad a chance. Let my mom work the books for a bit and I bet she could figure out a way to make you into a combined arms unit and my dad could build you an armor force to make you even more deadly than you already are.
"Mom's job was to turn companies around on Quaker VII. She dealt with takeovers and corporate restructuring. She is the one who made the big money and sent me and my brother to the academy. Neither of us were on any kind of scholarship.
"Dad, on the other hand, was the army's trouble shooter. He was sent to the worst units to turn them around. One of the reasons he was able to raid the Quaker VI starport, is he has a heck of a lot of loyal officers. Most of them are now heading to Red Star. Give it six months and you'll see for yourselves what my dad managed to piece together from nothing."
Dante glanced over at Robin, "When you get a chance, you should talk to Major O'Connell alone. Maybe you could convince him to give Cody's parents a chance."
Caleb nodded, "He will listen to you Robin."
"I don't know"
"Come on Robin." Dante chimed in. "You know he will."
Robin studied Cody's look for a few seconds, "OK, I'll talk to the Major, but I can't promise nothing."
Suddenly the radio crackled with Major O'Connell voice, "Robin, I want you on a sub channel so I can talk to you privately."
Cody frowned as Robin slid into his eco-suit and locked the visor so he could have a one on one conversation. "What's the deal? Why can't we hear what is going on."
Caleb took a deep breath, "He is probably checking with Robin to see what his thoughts are about the rest of us. The Major is up to something but wants to make sure we can all handle it without hurting our feelings or he is seeing what Robin thinks we can handle. Either way, between the two of them, they will figure out a way to pull off whatever the Major has dreamed up."
Cody gazed in Robin's direction then back to Dante and Caleb, "Why would your unit commander trust Robin so much?"
Dante and Caleb exchanged nervous glances before Dante gave Caleb a slight nod.
Caleb chewed on is lip for a moment then stared right into Cody's eyes with an inner strength the older boy didn't know the kid in front of him had. "What is said here, stays here?"
The cold look Cody was receiving actually sent a chill down his spine. "Absolutely!"
"OK, but before I tell you this I want to point out a few things you have probably missed. First, have you heard anything Robin has said that the Major has not fully backed including hiring your parents, arming you and your dad, or even trying to break into the purser's office?"
Cody moved his jaw back and forth a few times as he thought it over. "To be honest no. Absolutely everything Robin has said or done has been backed up by your unit commander 100%. It's almost like he is one of the command staff."
Dante half snorted, "Get used to it. Now think back to any of us kids. Have you ever heard a Grenadier not follow his commands?"
Slowly Cody shook his head. "Even back at the academy, he tended to deal with problems surrounding kids from your unit before your parents did. I've heard some of you complain, but to be honest I don't think any of you have ever told him you wouldn't do something. What the heck is the deal?"
Caleb glanced back to make sure Robin was still talking to Major O'Connell. "This is something he hates others knowing, but you are a Grenadier now and so you are part of the family. The Grenadiers, as you probably heard, does not have anyone over the age of 15 who is not employed by Major O'Connell. You either work for the unit after you turn 16, or you get off at the current or next starport."
"Yea." Cody stated, "It sounds like anyone over the age of nine actually works for the unit."
"We do." Caleb responded, "But only as ship hands or where our parents want us working," He glanced back to Dante, "If they care, that is."
Dante shook his head. "It's better some don't. I prefer the clean up and get to work with the electronics guys this way." He grinned, "But you'll see more of how we work real soon."
"True enough." Caleb smiled, "But unlike many of us you are joining late in life."
"Late in life?" Cody snapped, "I'm only 13!"
"Which makes you one of the oldest kids in the unit, but also the newest." Caleb fired back. "Most kids are born into the unit and stick with it after they become adults, As a matter of fact, Major O'Connell is the 3rd generation unit commander. His family started the Grenadiers almost 60 years ago. Many of the families on our ship have served under an O'Connell their entire lives. My dad and I both were born into the unit, we left for a while for what dad and mom thought was a better life, but after seeing other merc units, we came back."
"OK." Cody nodded, "I have heard such things are common, and I know from what you guys have said, Robin has lived as a Grenadier from birth. It still doesn't explain the trust your commander has in him."
Dante clenched his fist and shook his head, "No, but up till now, all you heard is he lost his father and sister a few years ago. The problem is almost everyone in our unit lost someone. Earth Core directly attacked our base and targeted the living area, killing over half our unit.
"What you haven't heard is what happened after the air assault."
Cody could feel the uneasiness in both kids but was dying to know. After a few seconds of silence the anticipation became too much, "What happened?"
Cody was so intent on finding out what had happened just over three years ago He didn't notice Robin had finished his conversation and had been listening in on the prior few seconds. Cody would have jumped if he had not been floating in zero G as Robin touched him on the shoulder.
Robin snickered as Cody nearly jerked out of clothing in surprise. "It wasn't as big of a deal as these two will make it out to be. They will make it sound like I single handedly destroyed their flag ship or something. In simple terms, I was captured with most of the others, but as they pulled me away form my dad I grabbed two of his grenades. They didn't check the kids for weapons. Instead, they flung us into the shuttle and transported us up to their PLC. Once there, we were escorted toward the brig area, which happened to take us right past engineering.
"As we were pushed past it, I tossed in one of the two, which ended up being an EMP grenade."
Cody's eyes went wide. "Right in the middle of the ships vital ops?"
"Yea." Dante grinned evilly, "and there is no shielding if one blows up inside the main area."
Caleb also smiled slightly, "It took out all of the ship's main functions. In less than a minute, everything that controlled the ship was off line and the ship was already starting a re-entry. The guards escorting us freaked out and opened fire on us, but because the ship was spinning out of control they were totally inaccurate and I think they shot only two or three of us and killed Neil's older brother, who was in bad shape anyway."
"Then what?" Cody asked as he felt his heart speed up.
Robin sighed, "We got"
Dante coughed loudly to stop Robin, "Don't white wash it."
Robin tossed up his hand in frustration, "Fine, make me an overblown hero. I was lucky and I wanted to kill all of them since they killed dad and Sparrow."
"His sister." Caleb cringed but realized it needed a bit more explaining. "His mom has a thing for naming kids after birds. His older brother's name is Hawk. He was one of our armor sergeants but didn't want to come to Quaker so he joined the War Blasters on New Bravaria."
Dante shrugged, "Anyway, the ship stated spinning and the guards started shooting at us so we tried to escape. Robin didn't run. He turned and tossed the second grenade at them. Those of us who saw it scattered, cause as you know nothing moves fast in Zero G. It kind of floated there, about head height. The guards were too busy trying to shoot us or find something to hold on to so they didn't see it. It exploded killing all six of them. A couple of the adults with us managed to capture their weapons and got us all to the escape pods; which we had to manually release because there was no power on the whole deck.
"I guess we were lucky, cause once we separated, we found they were shielded enough and far away enough to handle the EMP grenade without any damage so they had power and we were able to land. The Earth Core PLC, however, didn't. It slammed into the ground like a large meteor, and it must have been awfully important cause EC forces fled and the Grenadiers were credited with the victory."
Robin growled, "What you haven't heard is how many of the Grenadiers I hurt with the second grenade."
"About a dozen of us got some shrapnel, but we were all trying to flee so only 3 of us got badly hurt. Robin, on the other hand, got a chest full. He was on the surgeon's table for like 14 hours." Dante quickly chimed in. "But, the government paid for him to go to a newnal chamber so he doesn't even have noticeable scars. Besides, I'll take the scar I have on my back over being an EC captive any day. Who knows what they were going to do with us."
Cody whistled, "From what I've heard, EC has force labor camps and use kids they capture too."
"They probably do, if not something even worse." Caleb shuddered. "Without Robin, there wouldn't be any kids over the age of three in the unit and most of us would have lost at least one parent. Major O'Connell has been trying to figure out a way to have Robin officially join the Grenadiers ever since. This disaster finally gave him a way to do it."
Caleb giggled, "Now there is no way his mom can prevent it. Just look at him, He has even managed to be a unit recruiter."
"Keep it up Kay." Robin half snarled
"Or what, SIR."
"Or I'll get your dad to give me permission to take you back woods camping Again"
Caleb clearly cringed. "You wouldn't!"
"Oh, yes he would." Dante snickered, "And knowing Robin, he'll hire someone to make growling sounds outside your tent all night."
As Caleb turned a bit pale, Robin started to check the power on al the eco-suits, "Why the thought would never occur to me..." Robin let his voice drift off.
"Huh." Cody raised an eyebrow, "Me thinks there is another story here somewhere."
"Oh yea." Dante chuckled.
"Keep it up Dante." Caleb turned with a wicked grin, "We haven't even mentioned your sleep walking stories yet."
Dante cheeks flashed a bright red. "Don't you even!"
Robin openly laughed. "Come on, suit up. There is plenty of time to get Cody initiated into the unit later. Right now we have a docking bay to get to."
Dante glanced over to Cody and rolled his eyes, "OK boss, what has the Major cooked up?"
Cody had to bite his lip to prevent laughing as Robin glared at Dante for calling him 'boss'. The more time he spent with the kids for the Grenadiers the more he like them all. Dante's quick almost evil wit, however, really fascinated him. Life on the very religious Quaker VI simply didn't condone or allow for such behavior. Even as serious as the subject was, hearing the back and forth barbs was really refreshing.
Caleb slipped into his suit before turning to Robin, "Yea, so what has the Major come up with this time?"
Robin kept his voice calm, but the gleam in his eyes some gave truth to the words. "Oh, nothing too much. He just wants to shoot at us, is all."
"HUH!" the other three shouted almost in unison.
Robin shook his head. "I ain't tellin' yet. It may be we can't do it anyway."
"Oh come on!" Dante pleaded.
"Nope." Robin shook his head, "That's what you get for telling stories about me."
"But it's the truth!" Caleb complained. "Both Dante and me were there! We saw what you did!"
"The truth is I was so mad I didn't care about no one including me or either of you. I just wanted revenge. The way it worked out was pure luck. I very well could have killed us all."
Dante glanced over to Cody and winked. "What you're hearing is Robin's mom speaking through Robin's mouth."
Even as frustrated as Caleb was at not knowing what exactly the Major was up to, he couldn't help but laugh. He pointed at Dante, "What he said!"
Robin lowered his head into his hands as he flashed a bit red in the cheeks. As much as he wanted to counter Dante's last jibe, he knew his friend was correct. The words did sound way too much like something his mom would say. "OK, you win this round Dante, but not the war. Let's go!"